Sexism Sticks To You

by Damien_Reid on February 24, 2017 - 6:53am

The notion that sex sells is one by which nearly all advertising agencies abide. However, in recent years, marketers have begun to take this theory to an extreme. Such is the case with Malaysian airline company Firefly, which received large amounts of criticism after engaging in a distasteful ad campaign several months ago. Of the two pictures which it published, one (posted above) shows the backside of a female flight attendant upon which are imprinted the words "50% off". Immediately behind her are a bench with an identical message painted on the seat, as well as a sign indicating "Wet paint". To her right is the tagline "Firefly sticks to you" (NewsComAu), thus indicating that wet paint from the seat has stuck to her behind. Due to its utterly sexist depiction of women, this advertisement, in addition to those of similar natures, can potentially cause serious regression in matters of gender equality.
By objectifying its female subject in such a blatant manner, this advert causes society to view all women as men's possessions as opposed to the sentient, independent persons they can be. For instance, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the stewardess' legs and buttocks, two body parts widely thought of as being seductive in a woman. In so doing, the ad depicts her as a mere object of sexual pleasure whose self worth is defined exclusively by physical appearance. The fact that her face is not shown expresses the idea that her intellectual and emotional traits are irrelevant, thus further projecting the message that women's "value lies in their bodies" (Girls' Club). Moreover, by having a discount tag placed on her, she is completely and utterly dehumanized. Indeed, in representing her as being "50% off" (NewsComAu), the ad causes her to appear as though she is the product being sold. By insinuating that women can simply be purchased by men, it exudes the notion that they are inferior beings. Furthermore, it implies that men may own women, and thus exercise dominance over them with complete disregard for their opinions. This belief can lead to numerous misconceptions. For example, it may cause some to believe that female consent is not required prior to sexual intercourse. By displaying flight attendants in such a way, this advert also has negative implications regarding women's roles in work environments. Such posts traditionally being occupied by females, the ad conveys the idea that a woman's sole purpose in the workplace is to satisfy the sexual desires of men.
Granted, most might see the depictions made by such advertisements as being completely untrue. Nevertheless, they still tend have a deleterious effect on women. By focusing on women's appearance, they imply that women must place a significant amount of importance to their looks. Reciprocally, women tend to adhere to such conventions by constantly obsessing over their physical flaws, and thus fail to show ambition in any other subject. By fixating on such trivialities, they may be "[distracted] from making a difference and becoming leaders" (Girls' Club), ergo giving men the upper hand in most social, economic and political debates. In other words, women tend to restrain from voicing their opinions in major topics. According to Women's Media Centre writer Carol Jenkins, "97% of [all information] comes from the male perspective" (Girls' Club). For this reason, democracy as we know it is flawed as many important decisions are taken with very little regard for female judgement. In this fashion, by publishing advertisements expressing women's inferiorities to men, companies are in fact materializing such phenomena.
Unfortunately for Firefly, it does not appear as though this ad can be fixed in any way which would have it convey a less degrading message. Due to its numerous negative depictions of women, it is impossible to modify its contents without completely altering its premise. For starters, it cannot place so much emphasis on woman's buttocks. Further, the discount text pasted onto the woman must also removed. Without these two elements, it becomes impossible for the advert to express any sort of message whatsoever. Because of this, rather than modify the ad, it may be more favorable to omit it altogether, and simply start anew. Numerous ad campaigns for airline companies such as WestJet, or SouthWest Airlines have proven to be immensly successful without including any depictions of women.  
Although publicly denouncing this ad may have seemed to be a reasonable course of action, further insight reveals that Firefly most probably expected such a response. For one thing, the company posted an apology letter in a suspiciously timely manner. In addition, the color scheme and general appearance of this letter closely resembled those of the ad (NewsComAu). With this in mind, it is likely that Firefly meant for their ad to cause backlash as a means of obtaining free publicity. Thus, by shedding light on this matter, feminist organizations are in reality causing Firefly to benefit, which in turn will undoubtedly encourage other conglomerates to engage in similar ad campaigns. Because of this, corporate bodies will continue to increase revenue at the expense of proper female representation.
Works Cited:
Miss Representation. Girls' Club Entertainment, 2011. DVD.
How not to advertise flights." NewsComAu. N.p., 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.